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Appeals court rejects San Jose’s claim to A’s

Coliseum City, OaklandNo surprise here: the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected San Jose’s challenge to MLB’s antitrust exemption, keeping the Athletics in Oakland for now — unless the U.S. Supreme Court entertains the inevitable appeal.

Viewed by many observers to be a very weak argument, San Jose lawyers argued in the original case that MLB illegally colluded to keep the Athletics from building a new ballpark, despite the wishes of A’s ownership. U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte agreed the case was weak, ruling against San Jose and holding that baseball’s antitrust exemption allowed for the existence of territories — in this case, the San Francisco Giants‘ claim on Santa Clara County and much of Silicon Valley. San Jose appealed, and arguments were heard in 2014.

As noted, the entire appeal hinged on the argument that San Jose’s right to a MLB team trumped MLB’s anti-trust exemption. That argument was thoroughly rejected by the appeals court, but San Jose is vowing an appeal:

Legal experts have always considered San Jose’s court case a longshot, but city leaders vowed to press forward to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has upheld the 1920s era antitrust exemption in the past. Mayor Sam Liccardo told this newspaper that he expects the city council to approve such an appeal in the coming weeks, noting that taxpayers are not spending money on the legal fight — Peninsula lawyer Joseph Cotchett, whose law firm is handling the case, is not charging fees unless he wins the case and recovers the money under federal antitrust provisions for the winning side in lawsuits….

Legal experts, however, said the Supreme Court is unlikely to weigh in, although they note the appeals court did not duck the central antitrust issues, giving the high court an opportunity to revisit the question for the first time since the 1970s.

“I don’t think the odds are particularly great that the court will take the case,” said Nathaniel Grow, a University of George business professor with expertise in sports law.

The central issue is MLB’s territorial rules and the use of the antitrust exemption to enforce those rules. San Jose is part of San Francisco’s territory, and the Giants ownership have blocked the move of the A’s to San Jose, saying the team would siphon off revenues from the Giants. MLB owners take territorial rights very seriously — every large-market team embraces them as a way to keep a team out of New Jersey or Los Angeles — and expecting MLB to drop their territorial rules is sheer folly, no matter how loudly San Jose advocates argue for a team.

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